Up and coming Folk singer Julie Byrne releases her sophomore effort Not Even Happiness on January 27th. The album is the follow up to her 2014 debut Rooms with Walls and Windows. The debut scored high marks from critics and garnered the young artist an enthusiastic fan base. Byrne after the release of “Rooms with Walls and Windows” took a fairly lengthy three year break from recording but returns with an alluring collection of odes to the highways and margins of life. Throughout the release Byrne ponders her purpose in life as she takes a cross country trip across America.
Byrne a Buffalo, NY native has resided in various cities throughout her creative career; places like Pittsburgh, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans and Northampton, Massachusetts eventually landing in NY City. Her experiences in these vastly different regions have informed her point of view about the backroads and byways that lay just outside of those cities and towns. Not Even Happiness harkens to the beauty of deserts, oceans, wildflowers, cerulean skies and the mysteries of love she has experienced. The album captures Byrne meandering down forgotten paths trying to gain a sense of purpose and finally coming to a resolution. In comparison to her debut the new release has a slightly more polished sound and is succinct in getting get to the heart of the matter on each track. The release boasts a concise playlist of nine songs, each uniquely beautiful and insightful while fully utilize Byrne’s delicate but earnest vocals. Equally arresting is the excellent transition Byrne has made from the close of Rooms with Walls and Windows to the opening of the new release expressing hope and willingness to face the challenges that lay ahead.
Not Even Happiness starts off with Follow My Voice and the listener is greeted by a sublime and calming acoustic guitar. Byrne aptly works with the spaces between the notes to provide a direct and earnest song, where nothing jars. The song is a fantastic companion to a snowy winter night by the hearth enjoying a quiet moment. Sleepwalker has an engaging accompaniment married to lyrics that deal with the dangers of sleepwalking through life and romance. The track shows off Byrne’s vocal abilities brilliantly. Melting Grid reflects Byrne’s response to her first encounter with the Pacific Northwest and is filled with uplift and introspection. Byrne throughout the track attempts to capture the ghostly memories of those who came before and their fleeting shadows; reminding me of Sufjan Steven’s folk influenced works especially “Eugene” off of “Carrie and Lowell”. The track Natural Blue was inspired by a magnificent Boulder, Colorado sky and is the first single release off of the album. The song is gloriously sundappled and ethereally soaring. Again the listener will be struck by the beauty of Byrne’s vocals on the song which is structured in a way that should attract radio play.
Interlude is the half way point of the release and provides an ambient palette cleanser before the album continues. Morning Dove is my favorite song on the release and is a definite musical relative to Emeralds from her debut. With the track Byrne displays everything that is great about a brilliant folk song. It is evocative as is combines the longing to share one’s thoughts about the beauty of the world with a lover whilst juxtaposed that longing with the stream of conscious thoughts that come to mind on a solitary walk. It is a song that lures you in and does not let go. All the Land Glimmers Beneath and The Sea as it Glides could be taken as companion pieces as they both extol the happy moments in encountering nature and beauty which surrounds each person. For Byrne beauty can be found in the sea, forest or even a humble back yard garden. Both selections are haunting tracks that soar into the firmament taking the listener along for the ride with Byrne.
The final selection, I Live Now as a Singer displays Byrne arriving at the end of her travels and deciding to continue her public musical career. She is wholly convinced this is her purpose and she totally squelches any of her prior doubts. The song underlines the overarching theme which is a journey taken to figure out which path to opt for in life and coming to the realization that you are the only person who can make that decision. Additionally there is the realization that not even momentary happiness will suffice if you are not fulfilling your true purpose.
Not Even Happiness is a gem of an album and listeners who appreciate the works of artists like Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell and Sufjan Steven will find much to admire. There is a lot to appreciate on the album, especially Byrne’s delightful voice which carries so much emotion in her delivery while being utterly organic and guileless. She displays significant potential and possession of an innate ability to produce alluringly simple soundscapes and insight. Not Even Happiness is an armchair album that fully engages and never disappoints.